While a great many fine authors use humor in their mysteries, often to lighten the mood after (or before) some horrifying event, there are few who write their murder mysteries as out-and-out farces. One who did was Phoebe Atwood Taylor, author under her own name of mysteries featuring Asey Mayo, the New England amateur detective known as the "Codfish Sherlock." But those mysteries are mostly fairly straightforward, although there are some excellent comic elements in many of them.
But Taylor also wrote another series, under the pen name "Alice Tilton" featuring a New England schoolteacher named Leonidas Witherall, whose principal claim to fame is the fact that he strongly resembles playwright William Shakespeare (or at least Shakespearan busts and portraits). And those books are out-and-out farces, racing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, as Witherall gets himself involved in a murder (often, in fact, he is being framed for one) and must stay a step or two ahead of the police and try to solve the murder before they arrest him.
What kind of farce? Well consider the events in "The Left Leg," first published in 1940. It's the subject of today's review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here. In "The Left Leg," we begin with Witherall being thrown off a local bus, after another passenger, a young woman, makes some very peculiar (and fraudulent) accusations against him. As there is a snowstorm raging, he ducks into a nearby hardware store for shelter. The store appears to be empty - but as Witherall stands there, a man runs in wearing a green top hat and green silk suit and carrying an Irish harp under his arm. The man runs to the cash register, opens it, takes an envelope out of the register, and runs out of the store. Witherall leaves (with the store owner, now returned, insisting that Witherall must have robbed him) and next seeks refuge at the home of his boss, the headmaster of the school where Witherall teaches, only to find the man has been murdered and police are banging on the door. And the headmaster's body is missing a (prosthetic) left leg. And Witherall's galoshes are on the floor near the body.
Complicated enough for you? And that's just the BEGINNING of the novel. It's sort of the literary equivalent of the Three Stooges meet the Keystone Cops. And it is hilarious. Leonidas Witherall - usually called "Bill" by the other characters, because of his resemblance to William Shakespeare - is a more-or-less solid pillar of relative sanity in the midst of a remarkably crazy world. Taylor wrote eight of these wild comedy-mysteries between 1937 and 1947, and some are back in print again. I find these books a good way to refresh my own quirky sense of humor. "The Left Leg" is great fun.